On the evening of October 21st, 1978, Frederick Valentich piloted a plane over the Bass Strait and planned to land in King Island. He radioed the Melbourne Flight Service to let them know there was a large aircraft passing over him. Frederick mentioned that something was hovering over him and suddenly, the communication ended. Frederick and his aircraft have never been found, but many people believe there was a UFO that abducted him. Many UFO sightings were reported in the area that Frederick disappeared from.
Frederick Valentich was born June 9th, 1958 in Melbourne to Italian immigrant parents. Frederick was the oldest child and he had three siblings, his younger brother Ricky and his younger twin sisters, Olivia and Lara. Growing up, Frederick was very athletic, but he didn't do very well at the other subjects in school. At the time of his disappearance, he lived at home with his parents and three siblings in Avondale Heights and he was a shop assistant at an army disposals store in Moonee Ponds. Frederick was a member of the Air Training Corps and was absolutely determined to have a career in aviation.
In 1976, Frederick applied for the Royal Australian Airforce. Since his grades had been so poor in school and he flunked the entrance exam, he ended up failing the application. He was pretty bummed about this but knew he could try again. Since he wasn't eligible to be a civilian pilot at this time, he would need to start smaller and work his way up to that.
He received his student pilot license February 24th, 1977 and got his private pilot license that following September. He was studying part-time to become a commercial pilot, but his achievement record wasn't exactly where it needed to be. Throughout 1977, he took and failed many of the required tests to obtain the commercial pilot's license. He did pass some of the tests after multiple attempts, but he failed all 5 of his CPL theory exams in October 1977 and April 1978. Even though he wasn't licensed to be a commercial pilot, he was licensed to pilot single-engine cessna aircraft by himself and he could carry passengers. The plan was to keep doing additional training to build up his flying hours on the weekends and re-do the exams in the future.
Frederick did go to one of the Air Training Corps leaders, Edwin Robert Barnes and he was like, hey, I would like to volunteer for the Air Training Corps to get more experience, you don't have to pay me. Edwin thought this sounded pretty good and he agreed to this. Edwin became his private tutor and Frederick often dropped by his house on Sundays for additional lessons. Edwin realized that Frederick was bad at spelling, but he had the knowledge and capability to pass the next test. It seems that he knew what he was doing, but it wasn't coming out properly during his tests.
In July of 1978, Frederick took his 5 CPL exams for the third time. That Sunday, he and his girlfriend, Rhonda Rushton, showed up at Edwin's home with two bottles of wine. Frederick was like I want to celebrate because I know I passed this time. Edwin wasn't able to drink with the couple that night and let them know they'd celebrate soon. Frederick ended up calling Edwin in September and said he had passed all 5 of his CPL exams. This was not true, but it's possible that he was just embarrassed. He had actually failed 3 exams for the third time and he never took the final 2 exams. Edwin only found this out after Frederick's disappearance because the Air Safety Investigation Branch of the Department of Transport requested his assistance in providing a character reference for Frederick.
In 1978, Frederick disappeared when he was just 20 years old. He was attempting to do a training flight over the Bass Strait between the Australian mainland and Tasmania. He was driving a Cessna 182L, a light aircraft, and he was a moderately experienced pilot, with about 150 hours flying time under his belt. He held a class-four instrument rating and this authorized him to fly at night, but only in visual meteorological conditions. This basically means the pilot needs to be able to see well enough to fly without relying on their instruments.
The destination of Frederick's last flight was King Island, but the motivation for the flight is actually unknown. He told flight officials that he was heading to King Island to pick up some friends, but he told others that he was going to pick up crayfish. On the afternoon of October 21st, 1978, Frederick attended the Moorabbin Briefing Office, obtained a meteorological briefing and submitted his flight plan. He would fly at night from Moorabbin to King Island and return. The estimated time intervals of 41 minutes to Cape Otway and 28 minutes from Cape Otway to King Island. The total fuel endurance was 300 minutes and Frederick didn't make any arrangements for lighting to be illuminated for his arrival at King Island. When he made this plan, he said he'd be picking up friends and he took four life jackets with him. Police were later able to prove that both of these stories were untrue. There weren't any passengers at the Island waiting to be picked up and crayfish weren't available at this time, so they couldn't have been ordered. The local Crayfisherman had sold out early that afternoon and never received an order from Frederick to pick up. He had also failed to inform King Island Airport of his intent to land there and didn't request that they turn lights on for him and that went against standard procedures. His girlfriend, Rhonda believes that he never had any intention of landing at all and was maybe trying to build up extra flight hours.
On the evening of October 21st, 1978, winds were light and the visibility was good. At 7:06 PM, Frederick radioed the Melbourne Flight Service and that evening, Steve Robey answered the radio call. Here is the transcript:
Frederick: Melbourne this is Delta Sierra Juliet, is there any known traffic below five thousand feet?
Steve: No known traffic
Frederick: There seems to be a large aircraft below 5,000
Steve: What type of aircraft is it?
Frederick: I cannot affirm. It is four bright....it seems to me like landing lights. Frederick pauses for a few seconds, then adds: The aircraft has just passed over me at least a thousand feet above.
Steve: Roger. And it is a large aircraft? Confirm.
Frederick: Er...unknown due to the speed it's traveling. Is there any airforce aircraft in the vicinity?
Steve: No known aircraft in the vicinity.
Frederick: It's approaching now from due east towards me. Frederick pauses. Then he says: It seems to me that he's playing some sort of game. He's flying over me two, three times at a time, at speeds I could not identify.
Steve. Roger. What is your actual level?
Frederick: My level is four and a half thousand. Four five zero zero.
Steve: And confirm, you cannot identify the aircraft?
Steve: Roger. Standby.
Frederick: It's not an aircraft, it is....there is a pause for a few seconds...
Steve: Can you describe the er aircraft?
Frederick: As it's flying past, it's a long shape. There's a pause. Cannot identify more than...that it has such speed. He pauses again and adds: before me right now Melbourne.
Steve: Roger. And how large would the er object be?
Frederick: It seems like it's stationary. What I'm doing right now is orbiting and the thing is just orbiting on top of me. Also, it's got a green light and sort of metallic like. It's all shiny on the outside. There's a pause and he states: It's just vanished. Melbourne, would you know what kind of aircraft I've got? Is it a military type aircraft?
Steve: Confirm the er aircraft just vanished.
Frederick: Say again?
Steve: Is the aircraft still with you?
Frederick: It's ahhhh...There's a pause and he says: now approaching from the southwest. The engine is rough idling. I've got it set at twenty three, twenty four, and the thing is coughing.
Steve: Roger. What are your intentions?
Frederick: My intentions are ahhh to go to King Island at Melbourne. That strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again. He pauses and says: It's hovering and it's not an aircraft.
This is the end of communication, but the line was open for 17 seconds and you can hear a metallic sound which many people believe is the sound of the plane crashing. When Steve couldn't get a response, he notified an officer and a search was initiated. They weren't able to locate anything in the dark, but once the sun came up, they found an oil slick off the north coast, but there wasn't any wreckage. A sample was sent in for testing and it was determined that the oil wasn't from the plane Frederick was piloting. There was also fruit and vegetable boxes located near this area, but this was also determined to not be from his plane.
A light aircraft located debris to the north west of King Island. Unfortunately, this type of plane needed to rise in altitude before fixing it's position and they lost sight of the debris and couldn't find it again. The search lasted for 3 full days, but they came up empty handed and the efforts were called off. Many of Frederick's friends did try to map out other areas that he could have crashed and they did numerous searches of their own, but couldn't find anything.
The Australian Department of Transport looked into the disappearance. There were a few civilians that reported seeing planes landing or flying overhead. Still, nothing was found and the case was closed because it was presumed that Frederick was dead. They ended up reporting that they were skeptical that a UFO was behind the disappearance and officials speculated that Frederick had become disoriented and saw his own lights reflected in the water, or maybe saw lights from a nearby island while flying upside down.
Frederick's parents rejected the theory that their son was accidentally flying upside down. They believed that he had seen something before going missing and they felt that something was being covered up. On October 23rd, an article came out in the Bendigo Advertiser titled 'UFO Took Our Boy-Pilot's parents'.
As it turns out, a month prior to the disappearance, a woman wrote a letter to the editor and had concerns about recent accounts of UFOs. She stated, “We saw our first sighting two months ago. We were driving into Currie and a slow moving light followed us down the North Road, and finally disappeared toward the lighthouse. There were other sightings in Currie on the same night. Some people further up north also saw a strange light passing over their house. Then another told of seeing beautiful strange lights outside. On going out to investigate, the lights suddenly disappeared. Then last night.. the strange light appeared again just up from Camp Creek. On each of these occasions, the light has been very large and bright, and seems to light up the area as if it were daylight.”
After news of Frederick's disappearance became public, several people said they saw unusual activity in the area. The witnesses claimed that they had seen an erratically moving green light in the sky. One person said they saw a green light trailing or shadowing a plane that was in a steep dive. These accounts may actually be significant because they were recorded prior to the transcripts being released, so no one knew about the object and green light that Frederick described that day. A man named John Snow said on the night of the disappearance, at about 11:45 PM, he and his 11 year old son saw a long streak of greenish white light flash across the sky.
An officer in the RAAF reserve, Mr. Farr, said that he witnessed a “shower of very bright metallic scintillations (C is silent), to the south, high in the sky, about 30 bright centres. A man named Wayne Bellew was camping with his wife and they described seeing a “bright white object performing wild stunts over the ocean..the thing was performing such incredible maneuvers that any conventional pilot who tried it would have been guts over kneecaps.”
Don Cox and his wife were in their garden and wrote a letter with their account, “Having got my binoculars from within the house, I focused on this object...What I saw was a large triangular, yellow white light, laying on it's side with one side of the triangle in a vertical position. Within this triangle were iridescent lights. I can only positively remember three of the colors, which were blue, blue green, and orange, but feel sure there were also other colors. My wife watched if for near enough ten minutes, and myself for a total of roughly forty-five minutes before losing sight of it behind a large gum tree two gardens away. During the last stage of viewing this assortment of colors it transformed into a V shape, still on it's side with the top half appearing to be the reflection of the lower portion, as one might view a boat sitting on the surface of the water. I reported this matter to (short e) Edinburgh Airport at 5:45 PM Monday the 23rd of October, and was told by a girl that this information would be passed onto the UFO investigations officer in the morning. By now I was aware I had seen word for word exactly as the missing Melbourne pilot had described. I rang again Edinburgh Airport the following day October 24th and spoke to an officer who told me he would try either to see me at my place of work or at my home in the evening. As by the following day, the 25th, he had not made the effort to interview me, I again phoned and told him of my concern, pleading with him to heed this information which I felt so vital in the case of the missing pilot. After confirming my statement with my wife over the phone, this officer subsequently visited my home and took a signed statement form me along with a diagram of the three stages that this moving light had taken. I have no doubt in my mind that whatsoever I witnessed was exactly as the young pilot described who has gone missing....I am prepared to swear an oath or submit myself to any lie detector test to substantiate this my statement.”
Earlier we went over the transcript of the conversation between Frederick and Steve Robey. Well, Steve was actually involved in another incident with an unusual sighting. In the vicinity of Sale, Gippsland a pilot reported seeing an extremely bright light heading from west to east, but this pilot reported that the light was traveling underneath him. He was scared and ended up landing the plane. This incident happened a week after Frederick's disappearance. Steve Robey had previously been given a phone number to call if he ever had another UFO report, so he dialed the number and was soon interviewed by someone from the military.
Many people believed this was the end of the story, but five years after Frederick's disappearance, an engine cowl flap washed up on Flinders Island in May of 1983. The cowl flap is a small door located in the bottom of the engine that helps with cooling during takeoff. The Bureau of Air Safety Investigation said the part did come from the same type of aircraft that Frederick was piloting and the serial numbers were within the same range as his plane. It was possible that it was his, but they couldn't be certain since there was only a partial serial number. They also weren't sure if it was possible for a piece of debris to travel that far of a distance because it's not a piece that could float. Since it was almost 5 years after Frederick's disappearance, researchers determined that it was possible for the debris to travel a far distance across the bottom of the sea in strong currents. Some people believe that the cowl flap must have belonged to Frederick's plane, but others aren't so sure. It's important to note that there have been two other known events of cessna aircraft's taking off from Flinders Island airport that had lost the same piece of engine cowl flap. This could have been tested with newer technology, but of course, the piece in question has been lost.
It was also discovered that Frederick had applied twice to the Royal Australian Air Force, but he was rejected both times due to lack of educational experience. He also received several warnings for flying into a restricted zone in Sydney and for flying twice into the clouds and prosecution was actually being considered. Frederick's girlfriend, Rhonda, had flown with him about two months prior to his disappearance. They went to Newcastle and on the return flight, he accidentally strayed into restricted airspace in the Sydney suburb of Bankstown. Rhonda said Frederick was extremely agitated during this and she remembers he was dabbing a handkercheif to his forehead because he was profusely sweating. Rhonda also explained that Frederick had lied to her before about passing his meteorology subject when they first met. He later admitted that he lied about 4 months later.
Rhonda was interviewed 3 days after the disappearance and she told interviewers that Frederick was always very sober and rarely drank more than 2 beers when he went out. She did mention a few things that seemed odd to investigators though. She said about a week before the disappearance, the couple had driven out to to Dandenong Ranges and discussed UFO topics. Frederick said if a UFO landed in front of me now, I would go in it, but never without you. Rhonda said they didn't often discuss UFO type topics, but she had seen that he kept newspaper clippings of UFO sightings. This was actually something Rhonda later denied 40 years later when questioned again at the 40th anniversary of the disappearance event that was held by the Victorian UFO Action group. In fact, Rhonda told the audience that she was asked very inappropriate things when she was originally questioned. She explained that she was only 16 years old at the time and she didn't have her parents with her. During the interview, she felt very intimidated and a spotlight was shining in her face so she couldn't see the people interviewing her.
Investigators say that on the night before Frederick's disappearance, he stopped by his girlfriend, Rhonda's home in Preston around 9:15 PM. Rhonda says he wasn't acting like his normal, cheerful self and she felt that something was bothering him. They made plans to go out on the Saturday night after he returned from his flight. Rhonda suggested that he should bring some good clothes with so he would be able to change before they went out. At the 40th anniversary, Rhonda denied ever saying he should bring nice clothes with. She says the plan was never to have Frederick drive over to pick her up and go out. She says they were going to fly to King Island together to celebrate their 6 month anniversary.
Investigators asked Rhonda what Frederick's behavior was like prior to his disappearance and she said that 2 days before they took their trip to Dandegong Ranges, he proposed to her. Rhonda received a friendship ring and Frederick said he would replace it with a more expensive engagement ring later on. He explained that she could wear this ring until he was able to fully pay off the new ring, he just didn't want to owe anything on it when he gave it to her. He had already picked out the ring at a jewelers near where he worked in Moonee Ponds. Rhonda claims that Frederick asked her to keep the engagement a secret for now because he wanted to announce it after he gave her the real ring and he expected to have it paid off by Christmas. Rhonda's birthday was in December and she would be turning 17, so they planned to be engaged for 1 year, then they would get married after her 18th birthday when it would be legal. Some people believe that the proposal is a sign that Frederick was making plans for the future. Others believe that this shows erratic behavior and wondered if he was planning to take his own life because the proposal didn't seem like something he would do.
Frederick's father, Guido Valentich, was interviewed a day after Rhonda on October 25th, 1978. He did say that he knew his son was a firm believer in UFOs and had read a book called Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past. The book discusses the technological advances made by ancient civilizations and how this was introduced to them by extraterrestrials. He also said that a recent camping trip to Gippsland with the Air Training Corps, had really solidified Frederick's beliefs. He had been allowed to view the RAAF's secret files on UFOs, but he refused to reveal any information he discovered since the information was classified. Apparently, his wife, Alberta had recently seen a UFO with Frederick and they described it as a large light and said it was about ten times the size of the largest star. The object remained stationary for a bit before shooting off at a high speed. Frederick told his father that he was worried about being attacked by a UFO.
Here's how Frederick's day seemed to have gone on the day of his disappearance. The night before, he went to bed about 10:30 PM and in the morning, he had coffee, orange juice, and cereal with his family. He drove to Puckle Street in Moonee Ponds and his shift at work started at 9AM wand ended at noon. Right after work, he had to drive to Moorabbin Airport because his class started at 1PM, so he didn't have time to grab lunch. At 5 PM, Frederick went to the briefing office to submit his flight plan.
At the airport that Frederick would be flying out of before the disappearance, the daily inspection of the aircraft's took place. Vince Alfonso flew the aircraft to French Island for the inspection and noted that the plane performed OK, but there was a smell coming from the heater and that was unusual. On the return flight, a passenger noticed fuel was leaking from the fuel tank on the right side of the aircraft. After landing, it was discovered that the cap was out of the tank and hanging from the chain. Vince reported this and the cap was repaired before Frederick's flight.
At 5:23 PM Frederick boarded the plane and his take off time was supposed to be 5:45 PM, but he was hungry and decided to go to a local McDonalds and he got 2 Big Macs, 2 cheeseburgers, a fillet-ofish, and chips. His girlfriend Rhonda said he often grabbed food before a flight and would sit on the beach to eat. Frederick fueled up the plane at 6:10PM and was soon given the OK for take off and he did so at 6:19. This is a full 34 minutes after the time that was indicated on his flight plan.
There's a group in Arizona called the Ground Saucer Watch. The organization was founded in 1957 and had a membership of scientists, engineers, and professionals. Their goal was to provide an outlet for people to report UFO sightings or experiences without fear of ridicule. The group was able to research and evaluate all UFO cases that were reported. This group does believe that a UFO abduction is a likely explanation for this case. They did have something interesting and this is referred to as the Manifold photographs. Shortly after Frederick's last reported contact, there was a plumber, Roy Manifold, and he was just minding his own business, and set up a time lapse camera and tripod on the shoreline. He was planning to photograph the sun setting over the water. When Roy had the photos developed, they appeared to show a fast moving object exiting the water near Cape Otway lighthouse. Roy said the pictures were taken around 6:47 PM and this would have been about 20 minutes before Frederick reported that he was having difficulties.
The Ground Saucer Watch group did examine the photos and so did several independent experts. The photos were pretty blurry and the object couldn't be identified. The UFO groups believe that the distance that the object moved between frames, relative to the clouds in the background, indicate a speed of roughly 200 mph.
Years passed and there wasn't any news about this case, until 2013. A UFO Action group in Victoria claimed that an unidentified farmer saw a 30 meter aircraft hovering over his farm and this happened the morning after Frederick went missing. He said he saw the missing aircraft stuck to the side of the UFO and it was leaking oil. This UFO group was never able to track down the farmer that made this claim.
Some people believe that Frederick actually staged his own disappearance. A single trip to Cape Otway would take about 30 to 45 minutes and the single engine Cessna 182 had enough fuel to fly 500 miles. The conditions for flying were ideal on this particular day, yet the plane was never tracked on radar. Perhaps this means that he was never near Cape Otway. The police received reports of an aircraft that made a landing at the same time as Frederick's disappearance and it wasn't far from Cape Otway.
In 2013, an astronomer and retired US Air Force pilot, James McGaha and author Joe Nickell tossed out a new theory. They went through the radio transcripts and knowing that Frederick was inexperienced, they believe he became disoriented and inadvertently put the plane in a downward graveyard spiral and he may have mistook this for an orbiting aircraft. The authors say the G-forces of a tightening spiral would decrease the fuel flow and this would certainly cause rough idling which is something Frederick reported. The overhead lights that he would have seen, could have been the planets Venus, Mars, and Mercury, along with the stars. The authors believe this theory fits the description that Frederick gave.
On the flip side, Ufologists believe that extraterrestrials destroyed Frederick's plane or abducted him. They focus on the green light that was mentioned during the radio transmissions and the fact that people had reported seeing a green light in the sky that was moving erratically. Even though the transcripts were released, people often wondered if it's the full conversation. What if information is being held back? Well, the Department of Transport responded by stating that it had never been their policy to release the audio tapes related to investigations anyways. Frederick's father wrote to the Director of the Department of Transport in January 1979 and asked for a copy of the tape. He was told that this was against their policies, but this made Guido feel like they were trying to hide something. What if his son really was abducted by aliens? He went to a UFO researcher named Paul Norman and asked for help. He teamed up with another researcher, John Auchettl (okatel) and they went back to the department of transport on his behalf to see if they could help. They were like look, all Frederick's father wants is an unedited copy of the tape. The Department agreed to give them an edited version of the tape and they said they would not include anything Steve Robey said on the tape. They were also removing parts that they deemed confidential. Guido had to sign a document stating that only family members could listen to the tape and he couldn't release it to the media.
There was a book that came out in 1980 called The Devil's Meridian. There is a section that discusses Frederick's disappearance and the authors bring up an area of the Bass Straight and they refer to it as the Bass Straight Triangle. They claim that a number of unexplained disappearances for both ships and aircraft's have gone missing without a trace in this area.
In August 1981, the Department of Transport released their accident investigation report summary. They stated that they couldn't determine what happened to Frederick, but they had 5 potential theories.
In 1998, a researcher interviewed an anonymous man who claimed to be a witness to Frederick's disappearance 20 years prior, but he had never reported it. He said he was on the Great Ocean Road at Barham River which is about kilometer south of Apollo Bay. The man said just beyond the bridge, he pulled his car over and he and his two nieces were looking towards the east at the sea. They saw a cessna plane slowly descending in a diagonal direction. Light was fading, but he could clearly make out the cessna because it had a very distinct white navigation light and red wingtip light. The cessna was being pursued by a much larger craft that was illuminated by a green, circular light traveling on top of and slightly to the rear of the cessna. The man stood watching with his nieces for about 30 seconds and both aircrafts just disappeared from their view. If the cessna had continued downward, it should have splashed down in the sea just off the coast near Apollo Bay.
Researchers Paul Norman and Richard Haines believed that based off this description, Frederick could have changed course when he first encountered the UFO. What if it completely startled him and he turned away from King Island and headed back towards the coast of Victoria? According to the transcript at 7:10 PM, he said something was orbiting on top of him. Norman and Haines believe this means he was facing towards the Victorian coast before doing a complete 360 degree orbit. Then he reported that his engine was coughing, that could be because he was losing altitude. There was 17 seconds of metallic like sounds, but they suggest that he could have dropped the plane to an altitude where ground to air radio transmissions are impossible because the curvature of the earth prevents a direct line of sight between the radio tower and aircraft. They believe that Frederick continued towards the Victorian coast for several minutes, then turned right at 7:16 PM . The witness and his nieces would have caught sight of the cessna at this time and he would have crashed the plane around 7:21 PM.